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Outward Spiritual Disciplines for an Introspective Season

Updated: Aug 14, 2023

What spiritual discipline can I continue to improve upon? This was one of the questions for discussion at our church’s most recent Theology on Tap gathering. With the season of Lent less than two weeks away, we talked about ways to nurture our own introspection and self-examination. But that question about what spiritual discipline we might improve upon has potential for drawing us outside of ourselves, leading us from interior spiritual contemplation to exterior spiritual engagement—faith in action.

Richard J. Foster, a theologian and author in the Quaker tradition, outlines 12 spiritual disciplines in his book Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. Foster categorizes those disciplines by personal development (inward), service with the body of Christ (corporate), and service to the body of Christ (outward). The four outward disciplines, all based on Jesus’ words and actions, are simplicity - seeking God’s kingdom first (Matthew 6:33); submission - placing God’s will above one’s own (Luke 22:42); solitude - withdrawing from the world to spend time with God (Matthew 14:23); and service - supportive action toward others (Mark 10:45).

I complicate making toast. I probably submit to traffic lights more often than to God’s will. The illusion of solitude evaporates in the attractions of a screen. And am I serving others or my own desire to feel good about myself? Maybe balancing Lent’s call to inward contemplation with those outwardly focused spiritual disciplines is best practice for my life of discipleship.

Several years ago, I would help a small group of people provide breakfast to men waiting for work along Highway 21 in the early morning hours. After preparing over 100 breakfast tacos, chilling juice, and pouring hot coffee into thermoses, we parked at a gas station and walked along the highway offering food and drink to the people gathered there; all of them Spanish-speaking, most of them undocumented. We asked no questions about what they were doing, where they came from, or why they were standing on the side of the road. We simply offered what we had (¿Quieres desayuno?) until we had nothing left to offer. The gesture was simple. The work was submissive to the will of caring for some of the most vulnerable, overlooked human beings in our midst. Preparing the breakfast well before the sun came up pulled us away from life’s busyness and into the solitude of a quiet morning in calm, intimate community. And our service was an extension of hospitality that could not be measured, reciprocated, or applauded.

These many years since those mornings along Highway 21, I still think about the spiritual engagement with our neighbors that transformed us from strangers to friends. I can’t pinpoint exactly how each of those mornings effected me or the degree to which they shaped my outlook, but I know that the faith I practice would be less whole, less convicted, and less meaningful without them.

As I remember how the trajectory of my discipleship with Christ was changed by the simplicity, submission, solitude, and service granted in those mornings, I turn to these words from The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers from her book The Church Cracked Open: Disruption, Decline, and New Hope for Beloved Community, and I pray that they find you blessed today in your Lenten journey: “Followers of Jesus don’t stand still, and we don’t stay at the center waiting for centripetal force to draw all the people and resources inside to us. We go out beyond comfort, knowing, and certainty. We go when and where the Holy Spirit leads us.” Balancing necessary introspection with putting our faith into outward action, may we all be transformed and blessed by wherever this season of Lent’s walk with Jesus takes us.


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